James Webb’s Amazing Year of Cosmic Revelations

This first anniversary image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows star birth as never before, full of detailed impressionistic textures. The subject is the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, the closest star-forming region to Earth. It’s a relatively small and quiet star nursery, but you’d never know it from Webb’s messy close-up. Jets from young stars criss-cross the image, pummeling surrounding interstellar gas and illuminating molecular hydrogen shown in red. Some stars display a clear shadow of the interstellar disk, which is what makes up future planetary systems.
The young stars at the center of many of these disks are similar in mass to the Sun or smaller. The heaviest in this image is the star S1, which appears amidst a glowing cavern carved out by its stellar winds in the lower half of the image. The light-colored gas surrounding S1 is composed of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a family of carbonaceous molecules that are among the most common compounds found in space.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Klaus Pontoppidan (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope continues to dazzle with an action-packed image disturbing a relatively quiet star-forming region.

James Webb Space Telescope caps a successful first year of science, and stunning imagery, with a detailed view of the closest star-forming region to Earth, the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, resulting in a dynamic image that belies the region’s relative quiet – and practically begs for explanation of what exactly we are looking at. While dual jets have been seen blasting out of new stars before, the texture that Webb’s NIRCam instrument reveals in the multiple jets crisscrossing the image is unprecedented. In striking contrast, the lower half of the image is dominated by a glowing cave of dust being lit up and eroded by the most massive star in the scene. Its stellar neighbors are the mass of our Sun or smaller, with some displaying the telltale shadows of protoplanetary disks—meaning we are looking at planetary systems potentially similar to our own in their earliest stages.

Rho Ophiuchi (Webb NIRCam Compass Image)

Image of star formation in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, with compass arrows, scale bar, and color key for reference.
The north and east compass arrows show the orientation of the image on the sky. Note that the relationship between north and east on the sky (as seen from below) is flipped relative to direction arrows on a map of the ground (as seen from above).
The color key shows which filters from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument were used when collecting the light. The color of each filter name is the visible light color used to represent the infrared light that passes through that filter.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Klaus Pontoppidan (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Webb Space Telescope Celebrates First Year of Science With Close-up on Birth of Sun-like Stars

From our cosmic backyard in the solar system to distant galaxies near the dawn of time, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has delivered on its promise of revealing the universe like never before in its first year of science operations. To celebrate the completion of a successful first year, NASA has released Webb’s image of a small star-forming region in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex.

“In just one year, the James Webb Space Telescope has transformed humanity’s view of the cosmos, peering into dust clouds and seeing light from faraway corners of the universe for the very first time. Every new image is a new discovery, empowering scientists around the globe to ask and answer questions they once could never dream of,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Webb is an investment in American innovation but also a scientific feat made possible with NASA’s international partners that share a can-do spirit to push the boundaries of what is known to be possible. Thousands of engineers, scientists, and leaders poured their life’s passion into this mission, and their efforts will continue to improve our understanding of the origins of the universe – and our place in it.”

The new Webb image released on July 12 features the nearest star-forming region to us. Its proximity at 390 light-years allows for a highly detailed close-up, with no foreground stars in the intervening space.

“On its first anniversary, the James Webb Space Telescope has already delivered upon its promise to unfold the universe, gifting humanity with a breathtaking treasure trove of images and science that will last for decades,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “An engineering marvel built by the world’s leading scientists and engineers, Webb has given us a more intricate understanding of galaxies, stars, and the atmospheres of planets outside of our solar system than ever before, laying the groundwork for NASA to lead the world in a new era of scientific discovery and the search for habitable worlds.”

Webb’s image shows a region containing approximately 50 young stars, all of them similar in mass to the Sun, or smaller. The darkest areas are the densest, where thick dust cocoons still-forming protostars. Huge bipolar jets of molecular hydrogen, represented in red, dominate the image, appearing horizontally across the upper third and vertically on the right. These occur when a star first bursts through its natal envelope of cosmic dust, shooting out a pair of opposing jets into space like a newborn first stretching her arms out into the world. In contrast, the star S1 has carved out a glowing cave of dust in the lower half of the image. It is the only star in the image that is significantly more massive than the Sun.

This video tours part of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, the closest star-forming region to Earth. The image was taken to celebrate the first anniversary of the start of science operations for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Jets from young stars criss-cross the image, pummeling surrounding interstellar gas and illuminating molecular hydrogen shown in red. Some stars display a clear shadow of the interstellar disk, which is what makes up future planetary systems. Once upon a time our entire solar system, which includes the entire history of life as we know it, would show something like this if seen from a great distance. At the bottom, a glowing cave of dust dominates the image. It was sculpted by the star S1, at the center of the cavity – the only star in the image that is much more massive than our Sun. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and Greg Bacon (STScI)

“Webb’s image of Rho Ophiuchi allows us to see a very brief period in the stellar life cycle with new clarity. Webb’s project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, has worked since before the telescope’s launch and through its first year of operations,” said Klaus Pontopidan, who has served as Webb’s project scientist in Baltimore, Maryland.

Some of the stars in the photo offer a tale Shadows indicate Protoplanetary disks – possible future planetary systems in the making. Find out more details in the photo video tour (embedded above), or explore for yourself in the zoomable image.

A whole year, across the whole sky

From the first deep field photo, unveiled by President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Nelson live in the White House, Webb has made good on its promise to show us more of the universe than ever before. However, Webb revealed more than just distant galaxies in the early universe.

said Eric Smith, associate director for research in the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters and Webb program scientist. “Webb’s first year of science not only taught us new things about our universe, but revealed the telescope’s potential to be even greater than we expected, which means that future discoveries will be even more amazing.” The global astronomy community has spent the past year frantically looking at Webb’s raw public data and figuring out how to work with it.

Travel to the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. The journey begins with a ground photograph taken by astrophotographer Akira Fujii, then transitions to a panel of a digital sky survey. Next, a two-color image from the retired infrared NASA Spitzer Space Telescope appears, and then the video finally makes it to the James Webb Space Telescope image of a star-forming region. The star forming region captured in the web image is small and not particularly active compared to other known star forming regions. It is the area’s proximity to Earth (390 light-years) that allows Webb to capture it in such detail, focusing on the structure of jets emitted by young solar-mass stars, and a dusty “cave” of glowing PAHs. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Beyond the stunning infrared images, what really intrigued the scientists were Webb’s apparent spectra — the detailed information that can be extracted from the light by the telescope’s spectroscopic instruments. Webb’s spectra confirmed the distance of some of the most distant galaxies ever observed, and discovered the oldest and most distant supermassive black holes. They’ve determined the compositions of planets’ atmospheres (or lack thereof) in more detail than ever before, and tallied the types of atmospheres that may exist on rocky exoplanets for the first time. They’ve also revealed the chemical composition of stellar nurseries and protoplanetary disks, discovered water, carbon-containing organic molecules, and more. Already, Webb’s observations have led to hundreds of scientific papers that answer longstanding questions and raise new ones to address with Webb.

The breadth of Webb’s science is also evident in his observations of the region of space we know best – our solar system. Faint rings of gas giants appear in the darkness, punctuated by moons, while Webb shows distant galaxies in the background. By comparing discoveries of water and other molecules in our solar system to those in the disks of other, much smaller planetary systems, Webb is helping to build up clues about our origins – how Earth became the perfect home for life as we know it.

“With a year of science under our belts, we know just how powerful this telescope can be, and we’ve delivered a year of amazing data and discoveries,” said Jane Rigby, Webb’s lead project scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center. “We have selected an ambitious group of Notes for the second year That builds on everything we’ve learned so far. Webb’s science mission is just getting started — there’s a lot more to come.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb solves mysteries in our solar system, looks beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and investigates mysterious structures and the origins of the universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partner, ESA ([{” attribute=””>European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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